Mitch Marner’s scoring-filled 2022 is not really backed up by the underlying numbers

Ryan Hobart
1 year ago
The Maple Leafs got a pretty nice present for Christmas. No, not just the end of their COVID outbreak. They got back the scoring machine @Mitch Marner used to be, too.
In 2022, Marner has 24 points in 14 games so far, since recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered on December 1st of last year. After a pointless first two games back, he went on a 8-game goal scoring streak, with 10 goals in that span. And with 5 points in his last 2 games, he isn’t showing signs of slowing down on the scoresheet.
Marner seems to have reclaimed his well-paid place as the second best player on the Leafs. He recently hit 400 points in what was an excellent performance against the Seattle Kraken. My friend and recently-promoted-to-Daily-Faceoff-columnist colleague had this Marner hype that went rightfully viral:
But, what I wanted to know was: have his underlying numbers led up to this, or is it just a flash in the pan? Is it a lucky hot streak, him getting what’s due, or maybe both?
We all know that Mitch Marner is a good hockey player. The question has always been whether or not he belongs among the elite players in the game. And while his point scoring ability has always made it seem that way, and as noted by Scott above, his apparent defensive responsibility has helped, crossing that threshold of being widely regarded one of the best in the game still seems to elude Marner. Perhaps that’s partially from a general hatred of the Maple Leafs. Perhaps it’s because he’s outshined by the dominant @Auston Matthews, though, @Leon Draisaitl doesn’t seem to have that problem with @Connor McDavid.
Marner’s very good. Again, that’s not under question. But, according to Moneypuck’s Expected Goals model, Marner is just 7th on the team in Expected Goals per 60 minutes this season, at 1.07, only slightly above @Nick Ritchie at 1.01. One relatively bad showing in one model isn’t enough, though.
In my last article on Marner, the player card below highlighted that he’s in the 93rd percentile in TopDownHockey’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) model for the 3 seasons prior to the current one:
Evolving Hockey’s much more reputable Goals Above Replacement (GAR) model has Marner in the 98th percentile for the same time period. Very, very good. The chart below shows where Marner stacks up this year, in the 95th percentile and still in the company of some very good players.
For comparison, Matthews sits in the 99th percentile, behind only @Mikko Rantanen, @Johnny Gaudreau, and @Nazem Kadri.
95th percentile isn’t bad, but he’s still not in really elite company like Matthews, or even his other linemate @Michael Bunting, who is in the same tier as Matthews in the 99th percentile so far this season. Marner being the third best on his own line is definitely not what you’d expect.
Going to another resource, HockeyViz’s summary of Marner is pretty uninspiring as well:
Reminder: a negative on the bottom half for defence and penalty kill is good.
Conversely, Matthews has about the same defensive impact and a +20% on offence. Bunting is a -5%. Obviously, this model that aims to isolate teammate impact credits much of the top line’s success to Matthews, as it probably should. Where Marner shines is on the powerplay, where he’s a +8% compared to Matthews’ +5% and Bunting’s +4%.

Final Thoughts

I seem to be a bit hypocritical contrarian when it comes to Marner. When I wrote about him last, people were pretty low on him, and I was lauding his potential for an elite breakout. Now people are pretty high on him, and I’m saying he’s been a bit underwhelming.
While I am a  bit of a contrarian, what’s more true is that whenever public opinion swings strongly in one direction, the reality is somewhere closer to the middle of whatever spectrum we’re talking about. It’s especially true in sport, but it also applies to all areas of public discourse.
Ultimately, how I really feel about Marner is that he’s overpaid and, like Matthews and the rest of the Leafs not named @William Nylander or @Jason Spezza, needs to show up in the playoffs for the Leafs before I can ever really respect him. His point scoring is great, and his underlying numbers are fine, which should indicate that he’ll be able to continue that in the near future, including the playoffs. But, recent history has shown that a disconnect happens there.
I love Marner’s energy, at the end of the day I’m happy he’s a Leaf, but his scoring isn’t enough for me to call him elite.
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